Our youth need mentors to lead by lifting

Our youth need mentors to lead by lifting
By Michelle Tucker, President and CEO of United Way of Greater St. Louis
The following blog post originally ran in the St. Louis American

In the St. Louis region, nearly 1 in 5 kids live in poverty, according to United Way’s recent Community Needs Assessment – a staggering figure.

Children living in poverty face a web of interconnected challenges – food and housing insecurity, crime and violence, substandard education, and the list goes on. All of these can limit a young person’s future.

To combat the challenges brought on by poverty and systemic inequities, the stable presence of caring adults – such as a mentor – is crucial in a child’s life.

Young people need a foundation of positive adult relationships on which to build stable, productive futures. A mentor works alongside the child’s family, school and community to open up new perspectives and foster self-esteem. It’s not a matter of telling the young person what to do but helping them to identify their interests and leverage their strengths, walking with them through life’s journey.

In short, a mentor leads by lifting – lifting up the young person’s interests and championing for a brighter future.

Studies show that mentoring is linked to many positive outcomes. Students with mentors are less likely to engage in risky behaviors like skipping school and substance use. They exhibit higher self-esteem and increased academic performance. Students with mentors in their lives are more likely to participate and hold leadership roles in extra-curricular activities and go on to pursue post-secondary education.

Mentors open up new life experiences, helping students to envision possibilities for their career and future that they may not otherwise be exposed to. They help young professionals seize opportunities to grow their careers.

Members of United Way of Greater St. Louis’ Charmaine Chapman Leadership Society recently gathered for a virtual event to hear from several nonprofits from across the St. Louis region that help local kids succeed through mentorship services. The nonprofits explained how they have pivoted to virtual mentorship programming and shared about their current volunteer openings.

The common theme? Mentors can be a game-changer, and there is an incredible need for them. Nationally, 1 in 3 kids don’t have a mentor growing up.

There are many ways to be a mentor – a one-on-one relationship with a young person, or working with specific needs like academic tutoring, serving as a financial coach and more. If you are interested in getting involved, visit STLVolunteer.org to search all local mentorship opportunities.

It will take all of us coming together to help kids in our region succeed. By working to lift the next generation through mentoring, we’ll make a worthy investment into the future of our entire St. Louis region.

James Taylor
James Taylor